AIRSPACE TRANSGRESSIONS INDICATE LOOMING AIR DISASTER
By Johan Lottering
AIR SAFETY WISE we may be living, or as aviators be flying in a fool's paradise. The situation is serious... I recently attended a presentation by Cape Town Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Gavin Louw. He displayed shocking statistical evidence that in terms of National airspace management we are and have been for some time courting a major air disaster! The audience was especially shocked to learn that in the preceding twelve month-period no fewer than 103 classifiably “serious airspace transgressions” have occurred country-wide. Even more alarming was the fact that transgressions in the scenic and otherwise tourist friendly Cape Town area represent one fifth of the national average. The most bone chilling aspect was the high statistical probability (Gavin made it clear it was not a mere possibility) of a major air disaster in form of an aircraft under VFR colliding with a passenger-packed airliner. The time for intervention is nigh!
Particularly in the Cape Town area “airspace intruders” are mostly visiting pilots in light private aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) with outdated GPS navigation data bases. Many of not most private pilots nowadays rely on computerised Electronic Flight Information Systems (EFIS) and Flight Management Systems (FMS) resembling their “Virtual Reality” flight simulators on home based computers, yet blissfully unaware that any computer is only as current as its data. In reality Jeppesen and Aerad airway manual changes take place as part of an ongoing process. In an airline environment a pilot would routinely receive the latest changes even before signing on. Therefore, on technical grounds any pilot, albeit private or commercial, literally has to verify the latest information before each and every flight. This should be supplement by consulting official notices such as the latest Air Information Publication (AIP), Notams, Air Information Circulars (AIC), etc. In practice few of them seem to do so.
In air safety terms these individuals will necessarily have incorrect “Situational Awareness” combined with simultaneous lack of geographic positional awareness in terms of time and space. Drastic situations require drastic measures! Considering the facts, there should actually be a National outcry that aviation governing agencies like the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and Air Traffic and Navigational Services (ATNS) have not yet intervened in a decisive manner; or that newspapers like Die Burger have not picked up on the brewing calamity... As always our old foe “apathy” seems to be in charge.
Remember the mid-air collision one mile north of Erasmia in Pretoria? The problem area and imminent disaster situation, culminating in the mid-air collision between a South African Air Force Swearingen Merlin, ZS-JLZ under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and the Bon Air (Pty) Ltd Piper Navajo, ZS-KTX at 16: 35: 12 UTC on 14 July 1982 had been pre-empted by (written) National Commission of Inquiry into Civil Aviation as long before as 1981 (para. 9, pp. 27 - 27). One might almost state “only” thirteen persons lost their lives when the two cabin type twin engine aircraft had collided.
Two systems of airspace governance were not coordinating sufficiently. Doing research for a book and having the paperwork to back up the statement, one gets the impression that to this day those in military governance still do not wish to release their official findings. A national “hot spot” does not exist again. It still exists, in the Cape Town area. Some twenty years ago I was asked to represent a pilot charged with an airspace transgression. He needed to climb in his Piper 235 for safe terrain clearance above mountains, whilst told ATC by to stay low until an airliner had safely passed above… The same problem area and situation was again depicted the overhead projector. Aviators should demand on strong intervention by the powers that be and in no uncertain terms. Lives are at stake!